helping your exchange student process homesickness
Here are a few tips for host families looking to make their exchange student feel more comfortable in the United States.
Host families play an integral role in introducing the exchange student to the community and helping students make the most of their experience in the United States. Although homesickness may make your student alone, those feelings will pass if you make the time and effort to work through it together. If you are not sure where to start, here are a few tips for host families looking to make their exchange student feel more comfortable in the United States.
Talk to your exchange student
Navigating a completely different culture can be exhausting and sometimes students may experience burnout. A way to approach a conversation about homesickness with your student is to ask them about what their cultural shock has been while in the United States. It is important to remember that your student looks at life and society through a different social lens, so something may be bothering them that you would not know otherwise. Hold space for a conversation that will enrich the student and the host family, which will make everyone feel more comfortable as they adjust to being a part of
Occupy their time with activities
Sometimes students may have too much contact with home, which can interfere with their ability to adjust to their life in the United States. Building memories with the student requires effort on both sides to get to know each other and enjoy the experience of exchange. Students likely have different ideas about how families function and relate to each other, and spending time with them through activities will give them a better idea about how to behave within the community and within the home.
When at home, you can consider things such as cooking a meal together inspired by the student’s home country. Maybe they can teach you how to play a board game or show you a favorite movie of theirs so you all can share in a cultural experience that eases their homesickness. A little bit of distraction may be the best medicine.
Making an effort to understand the cause of homesickness will make all the difference as you get to know your student. It is normal and expected for exchange students to experience homesickness during their stay in the United States. Every student goes through social and emotional cycles as they spend more time in the United States, so you can rest assured that homesickness is a temporary feeling that can be addressed with some extra effort and care. Homesickness may not disappear overnight and it may get worse before it gets better. As the student gets more comfortable in their environment and takes advantage of new opportunities, they will develop a support system, but that can take some time to build. All students come to the United States for different reasons and find purpose, so give them some time to do so.
Encourage social activity and involvement
The exchange student should socialize with the whole family while the family encourages them to get involved in the community. Homesickness can cause students to feel distressed and it may also cause isolation. Students who feel less alone due to their involvement in the community are more likely to process their feelings of homesickness in a more constructive way. Encourage the student to make friends through shared activities such as sports or community service. This will create structure outside of school and the host family and bring more social elements to their routine.
If you feel as though homesickness is beyond the help you can provide as a host family, you can always contact your local coordinator to get support and perspective. You can also coordinate with other host families in the area to craft a plan of action to help all students combat homesickness. If necessary, your local coordinator can also work with international partners to put the host family and the student’s family back home on the same page about student care.
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